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SAT Math Scores Slip

Following recent gains, high school seniors turned in slightly lower SAT math scores this year. They scored the same on the verbal portion of the test for the fourth straight year.

Overall, scores on the college entrance exams remain below peak levels of 30 years ago.

National average math scores for the 1.2 million graduates in the class of 1999 fell one point to 511, out of a possible 800, according to results released Tuesday by the College Board. Average scores on reading and vocabulary, the verbal portion of the test, didn't budge from 505.

Of states where at least 60 percent of high school graduates took the test, the highest average verbal scores were in New Hampshire (520), Vermont (514) and Massachusetts (511). The highest math scores were in New Hampshire (518), Massachusetts (511) and Maryland (511). In New Hampshire, 72 percent of high school graduates took the SAT; in Massachusetts, 78 percent; in Maryland, 65 percent; and in Vermont, 70 percent.

The College Board, which administers the test, said the high-schoolers who graduated this year gained nine points in math and one in verbal over 1989 test-takers. But the 1999 class still lags six points in math and 35 points in reading and vocabulary behind the class of 1969, long before the Internet and scholastic tools like graphing calculators were readily available to students.

"That's not good news," College Board President Gaston Caperton said. The disparity proves the board must "do more to support public school systems so those scores will get better."

Among its projects will be an online learning center available next month that will provide test-taking tips, discussion groups and other resources to students. The center is not intended to provide a "quick fix" to low test scores. Rather, it should help students develop verbal and mathematical reasoning skills that students can use in "real-life situations," said Gretchen Rigol, the board's vice president of special projects.

"We are not going to try to teach tricks to help students figure out some quick way to get a high score on the test," Rigol said. "What we're teaching are things that will be able to help students in school, in college and thereafter."

But Jennifer Griffis of the group FairTest said there's too much emphasis on the SATs and good students are being hurt, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitney.

"They lose out on scholarship money, they lose out on universities that have cut-off scores, particularly top universities...." Griffis said.

After rising for seven straight years, the average math score fell to 511 from 512 last year. Scores had fallen below 500 in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then fluctuated before starting to climb in 1991. The math score peaked at 517 in 1969.

The verbal score also was 505 last year and has risen above that only four times in the last two ecades. Scores were 540 and higher in the late 1960s.

This is the fourth year of scoring based on a revised scale intended to raise the average score back to 500 and make the results more statistically sound. Comparison scores also were converted to the revised scale, although those for 1967 to 1971 were based on estimates. In 1995, the math average was 506; the verbal, 504.

The exam, the most widely used part of what was known as the board's Scholastic Assessment Tests, was taken by 1.2 million high school graduates. They account for 43 percent of high school graduates this year.

Testing officials also said students were getting higher grades at school than justified by their SAT scores. This year's grade average for all SAT takers is 3.24 out of a possible 4, compared with 3.08 in 1989. The percentage of students with A averages rose from 28 to 39.